Sunday, July 9, 2017

Stand On or Give Way?

The (finally!) warmer temperatures mean it's getting more crowded on the water. Twice during the last week, someone who had been on a collision course with another windsurfer asked me "What should I do?". In both cases, the windsurfer who asked the question was on starboard, the other windsurfer on port. All windsurfers involved were experienced windsurfers. I'll describe the two incidents a bit further below, but first, let me answer the question.

If you are windsurfing and find yourself on a possible collision course with another windsurfer:

  1. Determine whether you are the "stand-on" windsurfer or the "give-way" windsurfer.
  2. If you are the "stand-on" windsurfer, keep your course
  3. If you are the "give-way" windsurfer, adjust your course so that you are not on a collision course anymore.
These rules are simple and clear. Note that there is no "right of way" here! The rules spell out clearly what each party must do. 

How do you determine if you are the "stand-on" or the "give-way" windsurfer? There are a few simple rules:
  • Opposite tacks: If two windsurfers are on opposite tacks, the starboard windsurfer is the "stand-on" windsurfer, and the port windsurfer is the "give-way" windsurfer.  Even simpler: if your right hand is closer to the mast, you "stand on". If your left hand is closer to the mast, you give way. (This assumes that you are sailing in a normal stance, not on the leeward side or back to the sail).
  • Passing: If you are overtaking another windsurfer, you "give-way".
  • Same tack: The windward (upwind) windsurfer is "give-way", the leeward (downwind) windsurfer is "hold-on".  In other words, the windsurfer who pinches higher against the wind has the right of way.
These rules are universal, but it is possible to find an occasional web page where they are explained in a confusing or incorrect manner. For a nice explanation with diagrams, check this "Rules of the Road for Sailboats" page. You can find the same rules at plenty of other places and web sites, for example the American Sailing Association, the Maritime College, boating instruction sites,  the US Sailing Windsurfing Instructor manual, or (in German) at the VDWS.

There are a few other rules and conventions worth noting. 
  • Sailboats (including windsurfers) are  usually "hold-on" when on a collision course with powerboats. Exceptions large boats like ferries and other commercial boats, and against boats with restricted to maneuver (for example in shipping channels). But note that different rules apply for powerboat vs. powerboat situations, and that many powerboat users are not aware that there are different rules for sailboats (and windsurfers)!
  • Stationary objects are by definition "hold-on", so sail around them. That includes windsurfer trying to waterstart.
  • It is a common courtesy to give beginners plenty of room, even if they are the "give-way" windsurfers. Similarly, planing windsurfers typically avoid windsurfers unable to plane. If courtesy is not your thing, you can consider the other windsurfer as "restricted in the ability to maneuver", which would make you the "give-way" vehicle.
  • If you are the "give-way" windsurfer, you need to adjust your course sufficiently to pass in a "safe distance" from the other windsurfer. That is generally at least a mast length away, but if you are passing in front of another windsurfer on the opposite tack, it should be substantially more. That applies even if you are a great windsurfer - even PWA Pros have spinouts and the occasional unexpected crash.
One thing that is often seen when windsurfers on opposing tacks are on a collision course is that the "hold-on" windsurfer changes the course slightly to point higher into the wind. That is usually a courtesy which allows the "give-way" windsurfer  to stay closer to his original course, without having to go too far downwind. 

So, now back to the two recent "Stand On or Give Way?" incidents. In the first one, I was on port tack, and another windsurfer was coming towards me on starboard tack. We were both planing, and at least 200 meter feet apart when I first saw him. It was clear that we needed to adjust course, but with plenty of time, I waited a couple of seconds to see if he'd pinch higher. He did not - instead, he signaled with his front hand to his windward side. I assumed that meant he planned to go there, and adjusted course downwind - only to discover that he did exactly the same thing! Apparently, his hand signal was supposed to mean "you go there". When we both saw that we had both adjust course downwind, he both re-adjusted upwind .. and were still on a collision course! After the two adjustments, we were now getting uncomfortably close, and both ended up in the water. I don't think we ever got within a board length of each other, and we were at least 50 meters apart after crashing, but it was still a bit scary, and neither of us liked it too much. We exchanged a few shouts on the water, including his question "What should I do?". I answered "keep your course if you are on starboard".  I think this is a very clear illustration why we have the "rules of the (liquid) road" - exactly to avoid this scenario.

The second case was a bit less dramatic, since both windsurfers were slogging, but ended up with a bit more drama. The windsurfer on starboard was a women in her 50s; the windsurfer on port a guy in his 50s who often behaves like a teenager. I did not see the incident. I was sitting on the beach next to friends, watching Nina have fun on my slalom gear, when Heidi came and asked "When I'm on starboard and someone comes at me on port, what should I do - hold my course, right?". We all confirmed that yes, that's what she should do. She had tried that, but ended up having to jump into the water to avoid a collision when the other windsurfer also held his course.

Heidi was clearly upset about the incident, and went to talk to the guy when he came of the water a while later. While we were on the beach discussing the issue, another female windsurfer also stated that he had used her as a jibe mark, and come uncomfortably close. There was a lot of nodding on the beach - most of us had had similar experiences. The guy in question apparently thinks that he is such a great windsurfer that it's perfectly safe to pass someone very closely. Well, most of the time he looks good, but he also has quite spectacular blowups almost every session - often, but not always, in jibes. Others on the beach shared other things that had bothered them about the same guy - things like peeing right in the parking lot, without even bothering to take a few steps in the woods, or dropping banana peels in the parking lot after eating bananas.

The talk happened too far away for us to hear, but it was clear that it did not go well - we could see the "I don't have time for this sh*t" gestures quite clearly. Heidi came back to report that that's what he had said, along with things like "you're just a bad sailor". That, now, pissed me off. I can understand if someone has misconceptions about the "rules of the road" - it happens. But being wrong, being arrogant about it, and being rude towards women - that's three strikes against you.

Up until then, I had thought to be somewhat friends with the guy - we even had invited him to share our house in Hatteras next year, despite some warnings from others who had shared a house with him this year. So I went to talk to him, and started by asking if he knew that the right-of-way rules apply regardless of windsurfing skills. He got upset right away  - "you were not there, you don't know what happened", so I asked him for his side of the story. He gave it, starting with "of course I knew she was on starboard", and "I was waiting for her to pick a course, either upwind or downwind". When I tried to point out that the port sailor (he) had to adjust course, I quickly became the target of his yells and curses, which included slurs about my nationality. At that point, it was rather obvious that this was not a guy I would want to share a house with for 2 weeks.

This is not really an isolated incident. Complaints about him sailing way too close to others are rather common, but since he is quite tall and likely to curse, most refrain from talking to him directly. He recently came back from a 2-week trip to Maui, and reported similar incidents there - again calling the other windsurfer(s) there that had complained to him "bad windsurfers" (in somewhat more colorful words).

The story ends on the parking lot a while later. I don't like to hold grudges, so when he derigged, I walked up to him and tried to make up. We actually should hands with "I got too excited" and "you know how I am" sentences exchanged, but could not quite refrain from talking about the incident. He stated that this was none of my business - which is where I disagreed. A better windsurfer bullying a women into the water, followed by being rude and arrogant to her, is not something that I will just let go. It was clear-cut before: he was wrong, and he was being an ass about it. But he made it even clearer what to think of him when he blamed the entire thing on Heidi having a bad day, and proceeded to call her "cranky old f*cker". Sorry, buddy - you are about as old as she is, and you certainly are the more cranky one here. And using terms like that about someone's friends - well, that's just sociopathic.

But on the bright side, we now have one more room in our house in Avon for the OBX Long Distance Race next April - 2 weeks sound front in one of the nicer houses there!

1 comment:

  1. People like this really kill the mood plus are dangerous. On the bright side, you missed having to live with this guy in OBX. I doubt he's any more considerate of house mates as he is of other people on the water. Lastly, thanks for standing up for other, less experienced windsurfers regardless of gender. I'm sure they all appreciate the big dogs having their back.